In 2005 TMZ originated as the celebrity gossip and news web site, TMZ.com. On September 10, 2007 “TMZ on TV” debuted as a syndicated television series version of the web site.
TMZ is an acronym for “Thirty Mile Zone”, a 1960s Hollywood term for a union-defined allowable film and video shooting location within a thirty mile radius of West Hollywood. Any shooting outside this zone requires the payment of travel expenses or per diem to Hollywood union members.
TMZ.com and TMZ on TV are success stories, a joint business venture of AOL and Warner Brothers Television. To its critics, both the web site and the television series are prime examples of “gotcha media” where celebrities are caught on video during their most unattractive moments.
TMZ.com’s initial success came with being first to break Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rant during a DUI police stop and “Seinfeld” actor Michael Richards’ racist rant at a comedy club. They also broke actor Alec Baldwin’s abusive phone answering machine message to his 11-year-old daughter. Most recently, TMZ.com was first to break actor Christian Bale’s profanity-laced rant against a crew member on a film set, and they broke the audio tape of O.J. Simpson’s armed confrontation of a sports dealer in Las Vegas. Their most notable scoop, however, was of Michael Jackson’s death.
The web site was profitable after its first year of operation, making it a relatively easy sell as a syndicated television series. The web site staff has consisted of photographers, writers and producers along with a pool of freelance photographer/content creators. According to founder and editor in chief Harvey Levin, TMZ.com has 10 million users per month.
Before establishing TMZ.com, Harvey Levin was an attorney and then a law professor at the University of Miami. He began his television career as a legal reporter for KNBC and then KCBS in Los Angeles, where he most notably covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial. His first foray into syndicated series television was as legal analyst on the Judge Wapner version of “The Peoples Court.”
Before establishing TMZ on TV, Levin’s first foray as a syndicated television producer was on “Celebrity Justice”, in many ways a progenitor of TMZ on TV.
TMZ on TV
Harvey Levin is both the executive producer and on-air host of TMZ on TV. The show’s set is the real TMZ production offices in Hollywood. The show’s format included staff members pitching stories to Levin much like actual staff meetings for TMZ.com. TMZ on TV can be seen in 45 countries around the world.
Show critics have labeled TMZ on TV as the epitome of so-called “checkbook journalism.” Levin defends paying for news scoops, stating that mainstream media also pays news sources but hides the payments through perks and other means. As a lawyer, Levin also claims to pay strict attention to legal ethics in acquiring stories, using the tragic fate of Princess Diana and the abuses of the paparazzi as his barometer. For example, Levin won’t run a story where someone breaks the law to get it. He also won’t show celebrities with their children, and stars who look like they’re being stalked.